ALL nine cases of the Omicron variant so far detected in Scotland are linked and have been traced to a single private event.

Five cases have been detected in Lanarkshire and four in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region.

Speaking at the Scottish Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that contact tracing has established that all nine infected individuals attended the same "single private event" held on Saturday November 20.

The First Minister said: "None of these individuals - as far as we know - has recent travel history to or known links with others who have travelled to the countries in Southern Africa where the variant was originally detected.

"However, while the contact tracing exercise is still ongoing, health protection teams have established that all nine cases are linked.

"They all trace back to a single private event on 20 November.

"Indeed, we fully expect that there will be more cases identified over the coming days that are also linked to this event."

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The fact that the cases have no known link to travel or any overseas connection "suggests that there is community transmission" of the variant in Scotland, said Ms Sturgeon, but added that this "may still be limited" given that all nine cases are known to one another.

The First Minister added that surveillance work by Public Health Scotland has been examining any potential link between the Omicron outbreak and the COP26 climate summit held in Glasgow between October 31 and November 12, but at this stage has found "no evidence whatsoever of any such link".  

Ms Sturgeon added: "While it is not impossible that one will emerge, I think the timelines involved make it improbable."

All nine of the Omicron cases so far identified tested positive "on or around November 23", said the First Minister.  

HeraldScotland: Confirmed Covid cases are falling in ScotlandConfirmed Covid cases are falling in Scotland

It comes amid ongoing concerns that the highly-mutated new strain may be more transmissible than the currently dominant Delta variant and less responsive to existing vaccines due to the high number of changes present on the spike protein targeted by Covid antibodies. 

Scientists are racing to gather data from the real-world and through lab studies, but it is expected to take two to three weeks before the effects of Omicron on infection, spread, and immunity are clearer. 

Ms Sturgeon has urged the public to "significantly step up" compliance with public health measures, including wearing facemasks in shops, hospitality, and on buses and trains, as well as maximising uptake of vaccines and boosters which are now being rolled out to all adults. 

"We are also strongly encouraging everyone who can work from home to do so," said Ms Sturgeon. 

"And we are asking everyone, from now through the festive season, to do LFD tests on any and all occasions before mixing with people from other households - whether that is in a pub, restaurant, a house or a shopping centre."

READ MORE: 'A dramatic change from everything we've seen': Why Omicron has scientists scared

She added: "If we treat news of this new variant as an opportunity to raise our guard again, I hope we can protect the progress we have made in recent weeks. 

"And we can give ourselves the best possible chance of enjoying not just a more normal Christmas, but a safer Christmas too - and also of avoiding any tighter restrictions in the weeks ahead."

HeraldScotland: Hospital admissions for Covid are also fallingHospital admissions for Covid are also falling

Earlier, Jenny Harries, the head of the UK's Health Security Agency, urged people to reduce their social contacts as a precaution in the run up to Christmas, telling BBC's Radio Four that "being careful, not socialising when we don’t particularly need to and particularly going and getting those booster jabs” would be important. 

Alarm over the potential threat from the new variant comes despite the overall Covid picture continuing to improve in Scotland, with cases falling over the past week in all age groups and most rapidly among the over-60s, with 84% of adults in this age group so far having received a booster jag. 

The number of people in hospital with Covid is also down, falling steadily from 779 to 706 in the past two weeks.